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Food and Feeding

fish, found, flesh, fishes and barracuda


This fish is as strictly carnivorous as the shark, although hardly so indiscriminate in its choice of flesh. So far as my observations and dissections go, it is wholly a piscivore, feeding entirely upon other fishes. It is not meant to convey the idea that it will refuse other flesh food, but that left to itself its staple food is fish. In this I am happily corroborated by Linton (1910), who found in the stomachs of ten Tortugas specimens, collected in the summers of 1906, 1907, 1908, no other food than fishes.

With regard to the food of the big barracuda and the condition in which it is taken in, dissection of fish No. 12 (55 inches long) gave valuable data. Its stomach was enormously distended and, when opened, was found to contain some 5 pounds of fish in large fragments, surrounded with a lot of smaller fragments and topped off with the latter half of a fair-sized Margate grunt in a rather advanced stage of decomposition. The fish merely chops up its prey and swallows the large fragments whole.

Holder (1903) found that the barracuda could be taken only with a bait of shining-sided fish, and that it scorned all other baits, including the much-vaunted and everywhere successfully used "crawfish. " Probably the curiosity of the fish is attracted by the silver-sided fish as it is by a trolling white rag or spoon There is no evidence whatever that it at any time eats " crawfish, " as the large spiny crustacean (Palinurus) of the reef is locally called.

Most writers on this fish say that it is carnivorous, but most of them are so obsessed with its apparent desire for human flesh that they refer to no other source of food. However, Cuvier and Valenciennes (1829)

speak of a spet of the "middle sea" having its stomach filled with atherinas and little clupeids. Bullen (1904) dissected specimens from the Indian Ocean and found their stomachs filled with small mackerel. The man-eating habit referred to will be discussed in another section.

With regard to its piscivorous feeding habits, Bullen (1904) tells a story which is worthy of condensation and reproduction here. It seems that while the oceanic waters around New Zealand abound in fine food-fish, the fresh waters are almost totally devoid of fishes worth taking for either food or sport. Consequently, at great expense of money, time, and trouble, salmon eggs were sent out many years ago and planted in one of the rivers. Some of the eggs hatched, and some of the young survived. These grew apace and finally reached the stage when, following their natural instincts, they journeyed seaward. Down in the estuary of their river they first tasted the salt water, but here some native barracudas were prowling around in a school seeking what they might devour, and few if any of the young salmon ever went back to their place of birth. This story illustrates not merely the feeding habits and voracity of the barracuda, but the necessity of knowing the natural history of the native animals of a country before attempting acclimatization of new ones.